“Thank you for coming out to support rock’n’roll on this miserable whateverthefuckdayitis!” announces Spike, radiating his usual boozy bonhomie. The Quireboys seemed all wrong on larger stages during their brief brush with mainstream success. Their bank balances might be less healthy as a result, but more selective appeal suits these veteran Geordie funsters. They’re built for sweaty club venues where we can trade jolly banter and see the whites of their bloodshot eyes. And since we’re never going to get The Faces or the Stones aboard the Thekla, this is very much the next best thing. To further cement those rather obvious comparisons, tonight they’ve brought along Keith Richards’ great mate, geezerly Dirty Strangers frontman Alan Clayton, to provide the introduction, act as Guy Griffin’s guitar roadie and join Spike in cheekily dropping a few bars of Fool to Cry into I Don’t Love You Anymore.
Everyone agrees that The Quireboys have hit a creative purple patch, with Twisted Love being the latest in a string of strong releases. That they open with the rollicking title track bodes well. But just as they did last time they played here back in December 2014, they elect to play very little new material, retreating into the comfort zone of that chart hit 1990 debut A Little Bit of What You Fancy rather too often. Gracie B (reworked in electric form from the acoustic version originally released on St Cecelia and the Gypsy Soul) and Breaking Rocks are powerful, propulsive and agreeably heavy standout tracks from Twisted Love, but would it really have hurt to give us Torn and Frayed (not the Exile on Main St. classic, in case you’re wondering) too?
Still, there are some great songs here. The lovely Mona Lisa Smiled has earned its place as a live staple, and Spike introduces a welcome revival of Maggie M…er, Roses & Rings by describing it as his favourite song on A Little Bit of What You Fancy. Crowd pleasers There She Goes Again, Misled and Seven O’Clock get the job done, as does the band’s biggest hit, Hey You, despite suffering from arguably the clumsiest chorus in rock history. Sound issues mean Spike’s vocals get lost in the mix rather too often, but he gets a huge cheer when he reveals he’s forgotten his harmonica – mostly, it must be said, from the rest of the band, who take the opportunity to dance a merry little jig.
Although this style of music lends itself to a certain endearing sloppiness in performance, The Quireboys’ most recent recruits, drummer Dave McCluskey and bassist Nick Mailing, are having none of that nonsense, anchoring everything with the musical equivalent of six inch nails. Long-serving keyboard player Keith Weir gives it the full honky tonk, despite being tucked away at the back of the stage as usual, while guitarists Guy Griffin and Paul Guerin play off one another with all the effortlessness one might expect of a 13-year twanging partnership. Yep, The Quireboys never let us down. If only they’d take a few risks with the setlist . . .